Attorneys were given two weeks to ready themselves for what could be a decisive moment in the police chief’s effort to terminate Lt. Steve Johnsen.
Little action took place at the Oct. 11 termination hearing for Johnsen, but the sanctioned officer will be allowed to present evidence in support of his request that the charges against him be thrown out. Johnsen is currently under suspension for allegedly botching an investigation last year, and Chief Jim Ryan is requesting the Fire and Police Commission dismiss the officer. Johnsen, however, is arguing that because he was already disciplined in that matter, the effort to terminate him is a clear case of double dipping.
“Under the law you can not be disciplined twice,” commission attorney Charles Hervas said.
Hervas is ruling on legal matters for the commission, such as deciding what evidence will be allowed.
“It’s a somewhat unusual motion because most of the time there isn’t a dispute over whether somebody has been disciplined,” Hervas said. “Because the issue is so important the board decided that live testimony will be allowed.”
Testimony on that issue will begin Oct. 25.
Typically, Hervas said, motions are decided based on oral arguments from the attorneys and any supporting documents they may have. Should the board rule in favor of Johnsen, the case will be dismissed.
The motion for dismissal filed by attorney Jeanine Stevens on Johnsen’s behalf covers the six charges lodged by Ryan in August. An additional charge was added at the Oct. 11 hearing, meaning that the original motion for dismissal does not cover the new allegation, Hervas said. Stevens has until Oct. 18 to amend her argument to include the seventh charge.
In the latest charge filed by Ryan, the chief is alleging Johnsen made false statements in a motion filed with the Cook County Circuit Court earlier this month. The court is being asked to issue a restraining order that would prevent the termination hearings from taking place.
“The board does not have jurisdiction to hear Ryan’s charges because appropriate discipline has already been imposed,” Stevens argued in her court filing. “That discipline included a letter of reprimand in Johnsen’s personnel file and Johnsen’s giving up 10 vacation days.”
To the contrary, Ryan is now alleging that Johnsen was assured on Aug. 8 of this year that he had not given up any vacation days. Johnsen “knowingly signed?a verification to facts that he knew to be false and stated that they were true,” according to Ryan’s newest charge.
Doing so is a violation of the department’s code of conduct and “constitutes a substantial shortcoming” in Johnsen’s performance, according to the charge.
Hervas warned both sides there will be a “short leash” during arguments on the motion to dismiss.
“We’re not going to turn this into a pre-hearing hearing,” Hervas said.
Both Hervas and commission Chairwoman Amy Rita also stressed that Rita will not be testifying as to what she may have heard during two conversations between village administrators and Johnsen. On her client’s behalf, Stevens unsuccessfully argued for Rita to be disqualified from hearing evidence in the matter because of several perceived conflicts.
Stevens informed the commission she had intended to subpoena Rita’s testimony on the motion to dismiss.